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Home Working: The Up and Downside

08 August 2020 by News Desk

Home Working has many benefits but also many downsides, a major new study has shown.

The global shift to home working since the pandemic began has led to some upsides: More flexibility, no commute – more comfortable clothes.

But working from home also comes with downsides – longer working days, more meetings and more email to answer.

A new survey of 3.1 million workers shows that the average working day lengthened by 48.5 minutes in the weeks following lockdowns and the number of meetings increased by 13 per cent

The study also found big increases in internal email and in meeting sizes.

Home working can generate a fear of appearing lazy, so faced with a fear of unemployment, workers over compensate – with a real danger of mental health issues and burnout.

One bright spot in the survey results is that total amount of time scheduled for meetings was lower. That fell 11.5 per cent or nearly 20 minutes per day and the average meeting duration was scheduled to be shorter. The number of emails also returned to pre-lockdown activity over time, the paper said.

The report found some differences between workers in America and Europe. In many European cities, for instance, the reduction in scheduled meeting length was stark, while the decrease in US cities was relatively minor.

And while the span of the workday remained high in some cities, including New York, it returned to baseline in others during the post-lockdown period the researchers studied.

Home Working: The Up and Downside

Having a longer workday span does not necessarily mean people worked more hours within that day,

Examining the earliest and latest email and calendar data does not account for those who broke away to take care of elderly parents, managed multiple interruptions from schooling young children at home or simply chose to walk the dog for the third time that day.

But a day broken up into shorter meetings or one that bleeds longer into the evening – even if the total number of hours worked isn’t more – can have downsides, too. “Is working from home or living at work, or both?” said Jeffrey Polzer, a Harvard Business School professor and one of the report’s co-authors,

“As we try to manage our home working environment, it’s very hard to turn off work. That’s always been true since our phones have followed us home, but that phenomenon has grown.”

In the months since the pandemic began, many have grown concerned that women will take the biggest long-term hits to their careers as schools and day cares remain closed and women disproportionately lose jobs or are forced to make painful choices between their careers, child care and education, according to the report by the National Bureau of Economic Research

A trend toward a longer and longer day won’t be sustainable. “Organisations are trying to figure out what the capacity is to handle this type of work,” he said. “People will start burning out if we don’t rethink how they’re spending their time.”

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